Singing Her Heart Out

Orphan of the Heart (Independent)
Tess Arkels

By Kevin Gibson

New Albany, Ind., resident Tess Arkels leans into this set gently but forcefully, combining a sultry voice with solid songwriting - and excellent musicianship -- for a better-than-average result.

What kind of music is this? Good question. It's part rock, part folk, part pop, part blues ... OK, well, it's guitar-based with occasional horns, fiddle and mandolin, plus a little pedal steel. (Darn!) OK, perhaps it's best to note that Arkels' supporting cast comes highly recommended: Tim Krekel, Steve Cooley, Scot Payne, Peter Rhee ... you get the picture.

I suppose what I'm saying is that this disc has a very Louisville/Americana rock feel. If you like Krekel's music, you'll like this.

Now down to the good stuff: Arkels blazes out of the gate with the title track. Krekel's lead guitar leads the way for Arkels' intense vocal (think Bonnie Raitt without the crackle) and she serves up her lyrical warning with heartfelt abandon: "You can talk to me and never know me too well/and you'll never know just exactly what it is I feel/You can look at me or what you think you see/But baby you'll never be able to see me through."

"Joe's Song" (another Arkels composition) works similarly, but delivers the sad story with a more lighthearted approach. Krekel again lays down a precise and perfectly tailored lead guitar to complete the package. (Really, you have to hear this to appreciate it.)

Now, admittedly, not all the tracks herein live up to the aforementioned two. "Relative," for instance, although not a bad song at all, just doesn't work as well as it might. This might be a simple case of a song that needed to cook just a little longer. Payne contributed two solid numbers to the album, while Scott Robinson and the late Bob Maples each contributed one. But overall Arkels sounds as if she prefers to sing her own music (see the melancholy "Conscience" for further evidence).

Perhaps, if "Orphan of the Heart" is truly autobiographical, her collaborators just don't know her as well as she knows herself. Whatever the case, Orphan is worth a listen. You can pick it up at ear X-tacy or get one at her CD release party July 9 at the Rudyard Kipling.